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Brian Viner

Brian Viner: Unmistakeable voice of 'Whispering Death' heavenly on the ears

The Last Word

Michael Holding's excellent autobiography, No Holding Back, landed with a thud on my doormat yesterday, which of course was more noise than he ever made as he glided up to the wicket, hence the evocative nickname conferred on him by Dickie Bird, "Whispering Death".

I can find no mention in the book, however, of his starring role in Brian Johnston's supposed one-liner (of which nobody has ever managed to find a recording), "the bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey." At Headingley three years ago I interviewed Holding and cheekily brought it up. He looked down at me imperiously. "That brings me less joy than Whispering Death," he said. "I prefer to ignore it and move on." We moved on.

Not the least pleasurable aspect of the publication of No Holding Back, I should add, has been hearing over the airwaves the great man's unmistakeable Jamaican accent, delivered in that marvellous basso profundo. I heard him on both Five Live and TalkSport while I was driving last week, and realised that he is one of the few men whose voice is lower than the pitch of my Volvo engine. Another is TalkSport's US golf correspondent Bob Bubka, and speaking of golf, in July 1976 I was a 14-year-old spectator at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, while 40-odd miles away at Old Trafford, in the third Test between England and the West Indies, Holding was showing Tony Greig just what it felt like to grovel – the England captain having so provocatively predicted some opposition grovelling at the start of that series – by taking 5 for 17 as Greig's team staggered to 71 all out.

The following day I followed Lee Trevino round a sun-baked Birkdale, listening with delight as he yapped relentlessly, pausing only in the second or two either side of his club making contact with the ball. England's cricketing humiliation had not escaped Trevino. "So let me get this straight," he said to the man in the crowd he'd randomly chosen as his foil, while teeing up his ball on the second hole. "England has 11 players who scored 71 runs in total, and this West Indian guy Greenidge has scored 71 all on his own?" He struck the ball, and watched it sail down the fairway, low from left to right. "Man, England must be real bad at cricket. But you English invented it, right?" Trevino gave a gleeful cackle and in the gallery we all cackled along, fleetingly happy to have seen our cricketers so humbled by the magisterial Gordon Greenidge and Whispering Death himself.

Incidentally, if ever there was a match in which the bowler was Holding the batsman's Willey, it wasn't that one. The England team that day was Edrich, Close, Pocock, Steele, Woolmer, Hayes, Greig, Knott, Underwood, Selvey and Hendrick, which I suppose might have meant that the bowler was at some point Holding the batsman's Pocock, but it's not quite the same. As for those first-innings figures of 5 for 17, they weren't even close to being Holding's best of the series. In the first innings at The Oval he took 8 for 92. Those were the days when he let his glorious bowling do the talking. But he has just as much to offer now that he lets his glorious voice do the talking.

Chiles on the ball now after early stumping

Some years ago I had some gentle fun in this column at the expense of Adrian Chiles (below), then of Radio Five Live. I'd heard him interviewing the Zimbabwean former cricketer Eddo Brandes over the phone, having been briefed either badly, or not at all, and his manifest discomfort as along with other wince-inducing exchanges it emerged that Brandes was white, not black as he'd assumed, injected some welcome hilarity into a long car journey.

Anyway, Chiles very gamely emailed me when the column came out, acknowledging his embarrassment, and suggesting lunch. We've stayed in occasional touch ever since, and I've enjoyed watching his career go stratospheric. It was a particular pleasure to watch his debut as ITV's main football presenter on Monday. He anchored the England v Mexico coverage with such matey charm and wit that it was rather like being back in the heyday of Des Lynam, with a West Midlands accent instead of a tache. The following day we exchanged texts. I complimented him on a fine performance, and suggested that the ghost of Eddo Brandes had now been properly exorcised. He replied, saying that, on the contrary, Eddo's spectre drives him ever onward.

Venus's forehanded compliment

If there has been any media coverage this week of the centenary of Teddy Tinling's birth then I've missed it, but there really should have been, because in his 79 years Tinling was a couturier, a leading tennis player and a spy, enough to make him a truly singular figure in British history even if he hadn't also been 6ft 6in tall and rather flamboyantly gay. Still, I fancy that Tinling, who famously designed the lace panties for "Gorgeous" Gussie Moran that shocked the Wimbledon establishment in 1949, could have imagined no finer 100th birthday tribute than the lingerie-style dress and flesh-coloured underwear paraded by Venus Williams at the French Open. Happy birthday, Teddy. And nice one, Venus.